The sort of movie for which lazy writing exists. Let’s list the adjectives: “devastating,” “frank,” “raw,” and, my favorite, “Dantean.” The second movie in which Michael Fassbender offers his flesh to director Steve McQueen’s fetishization, Shame shows a New York paralyzed by color schemes of gray and periwinkle blue. In case you don’t get that Fassender’s Brandon is a Shallow Person, McQueen’s camera loiters, like Caravaggio on one of his shepherds, on Brandon’s body nude except for a loincloth of a blue-grey blanket covering his formidable badoobies; he works in a high rise doing corporate stuff that’s never defined (to give this man an identity would mean he has a chance of making it to purgatory). After fucking prostitutes and coitusly interrupting a coworker turned on by his oh-so-conventional “I don’t believe in marriage” speech (he says this drivel and he’s supposed to be a pussy hound? He should move to Miami), he descends into said Dantean depths, bottoming out in a ninth circle which consists of a gay bar not even dignified — a movie whose images are so clean and oversaturated that you can probably scrub your hands clean of microbes with one — with a clear focus lens shot of the territory. Not that it matters: Brandon visits this gay bacchanal so that he can get the most unconvincing blow job in cinema history. William Friedkin’s notorious Cruising at least shows the body sweat and poppers. But his sister, played by Carey Mulligan, won’t be tamed; McQueen helpfully scores her suicide attempt to classical music, the better for Brandon to let out one of those silent screams for which hacks get Oscar nominations (Fassbender is no hack, so credit the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for recoiling).
Calvinist and inert, Shame won’t dignify its characters with interiority or their own motivations; the tile pins them wriggling to the wall. Since Fassbender doesn’t play Brandon as a psychopath there’s no reason for me to judge his indulgences as presented by McQueen as anything other than the hedonism of youth. Better yet, Fassbender’s Brandon has money! Imagine if we’d had money in our late twenties. How would it have hurt their cause if they’d presented Brandon as a sex fiend who, like, enjoys his addiction? That would have been the radical movie. Putting the audience through the Stations of the Cross represents art though. Shame even ends with An Ambiguous Shot!